By Scott Leysath
When it comes to preparing a good piece of meat, there are folks who claim to be "purists." Just season it with salt and pepper and don't mess it up with some fancy-schmancy sauce, they say. Others, like me, prefer meat to be accompanied by a flavorful sauce that complements, but does not disguise, the meat's natural flavor.
Pan sauces make use of the tasty bits of goodness that get stuck to the skillet after browning meat. Once the meat has been cooked and removed from the pan, a liquid is added, and the pan is lightly scraped to incorporate meaty flavors into the sauce. When you see chefs on TV create a fiery display by adding alcohol to deglaze a hot skillet, that's just for show. Home chefs should be careful when exposing any flammable liquid to a hot pan or open flames. To be on the safe side, take the pan away from the heat source and slowly add the alcohol. Stir the contents and then return the pan to the stove.
The liberal use of cream and, sometimes, real butter is what usually sets good restaurant sauces apart from the ones we make at home. Add cream to the sauce early and reduce in an uncovered pan to concentrate the flavors and thicken the sauce. After the liquid has been reduced to just a couple of tablespoons, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in chilled chunks of butter, a few at a time, until the sauce is smooth and creamy.
Pan-Seared Duck with Peppercorn Cream Sauce
Makes: 4 Servings
This recipe features a classic pairing of crispy duck breast fillets topped with a savory sauce. Invite your family, friends, and even your boss.
- 4 to 6 duck breast fillets (skin on or off)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon grease
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/3 cup brandy (or substitute orange juice)
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots (or the white part of 2 green onions)
- 2 tablespoons cracked tricolor peppercorns
- 1 cup heavy cream
[Step 1] Season duck breast fillets liberally with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fillets skin-side down and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until crisp. Flip the meat over and cook to desired doneness. For skinless fillets, brown on both sides for about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
[Step 2] Remove the duck from the pan and place on a plate. Cover with tented foil to keep the fillets warm. Remove the pan from the stove, pour off any excess oil, and lightly wipe down the pan with a paper towel. Combine chicken broth and brandy and pour into the pan. Return the pan to the stove and stir the contents over medium-high heat to remove any bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add shallots and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until liquid is reduced by half. Add heavy cream, bring to a boil, and whisk constantly for about 4 to 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste with salt.
[Step 3] Slice duck breast fillets into 3 or 4 slices. Arrange on plates and spoon sauce over the meat.
Skin On or Off? Plucking rather than skinning a duck requires a little extra time, but it's worth it. Puddle ducks such as mallards, black ducks, and pintails are the best candidates for plucking. The skin of darker-fleshed divers can add unpleasant flavors and should be removed prior to cooking. Cook fillets until the skin is crisp, not rubbery, and then brown the other side.